Two backcountry kayak fishing trips in December led me to settle on a New Year’s Resolution: I will seek a balance in all things between exploring the new and cherishing the old and familiar in my life.
There is little that excites me as much as exploring new waters, especially in remote pristine wild areas. What’s around that next bend in the lake or what is lurking in that alluring dark hole in the mangrove tunnel at the S-curve in the creek? The lightly traveled Fakahatchee River that springs from the Everglades near the Tamiami Trail then wends its way to the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect example. The put-in point is just across the road from a popular tourist site—a recreated Seminole Village with thatched roof huts. It is one of the few backcountry creeks I haven’t paddled. Indeed, I have never seen a vehicle or boats at the clearing in the mangroves where you can launch a kayak. Why? The answer seems to be captured in Jeff Ripple’s Kayaking Guide to the Everglades in which he warns this is the toughest, most challenging route in his excellent book.
Yesterday I was out in the Everglades backcountry on my annual pre-Thanksgiving anticipatory calorie reduction kayak trip. It was a beautiful day—sunny sky, and the wind hadn’t kicked up yet. I was gliding over the crystal clear, copper-tinged water with a smile on my face. But like every fishing/kayak trip this past week, something was gnawing at me. It didn’t feel right to be enjoying myself so much and soaking in the wonderful gifts of nature all around me when there seemed to be so much hurt, so much evil in the world around us. In France, in Mali, in Lebanon common folk like me were suffering terrible pain at the hands of misguided zealots from ISIS and other fanatics.
Today we celebrate the life of a smart, classy, lovely lady–my Mom–who passed away earlier this month at age 91.
My Dad gave me my love of the outdoors, taking me fishing and bird watching as a kid…he fed my soul. Mom nourished my mind and fascination with science and nature, making sure I had the books to explore my curiosity–like
the giant Audubon bird guide that she surprised me with on my 10th birthday. It’s still one of my treasured possessions over five decades later.
She did that for all her four children while raising and advocating for my sister Susan who had cerebral palsy. In an era when kids with disabilities were often shipped off to state institutions for education, Mom made sure Susan was “mainstreamed” in local schools before anyone knew that term. Susan graduated with a Masters Degree and went on to a career in vocational rehabilitation counseling, a shining example of possibilities for other handicapped people. Then when most people start to kick back, Mom, who was married the day after she graduated from high school, went to college at age 50 and got her nursing degree. She had a fulfilling career as an RN for almost 20 years.
Ah, the pleasures of grass!!
GOTCHA!! All you baby boomers out there of course thought this piece was going to be about that recreational drug of our youth, especially since I am in Colorado where marijuana is legal. But no, I am writing to sing the praises of that broad plant family called grass that has thrived this year around my cabin thanks to all the rain. Almost a dozen species have created a beautiful, luxuriant undulating sea on the slopes down to the creek. Three of my favorites are mountain brome, blue grama, and Indian rice grass—each distinctive and fascinating.
As I drive up the country road to my cabin, the gravel track narrows, bracketed by a thick stand of gigantic Bromus maginatus, a species of grass known commonly as mountain brome . The plant books say this perennial grass grows to four feet, but these giants tower over me as I get out to inspect their heads waving in the breeze. The nodding tassels have bunches of 5-10 bristle-tipped tiny yellow flowers. The leaves are long and a little hairy. Mountain brome is native to western North America, and cattle love it as do other grazing animals including mountain sheep and deer. Birds and rodents savor it also. Farmers and ranchers value it because it can tolerate drought, and its shallow root system is good for erosion control. But here in the subalpine wilds where it is native among the sage and rabbitbrush, mountain brome likes moister areas best. The little niche where this stand has flourished flooded back in June when the nearby creek spilled over into the meadow along the road providing the perfect habitat, an odd oasis in this high-mountain desert that gets barely a foot of moisture in an average year.